The Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles, the first 15-seed ever to reach the NCAA basketball tournament's second weekend, are the toast of March Madness on the basis of their high-flying style (nickname: "Dunk City") and up-from-nowhere story. Less than two decades ago, FGCU was little more than a collection of trailers looking out over a swamp. Today its hoops team is hanging with the heavyweights.
The less inspiring story, however, is how FGCU rose up out of the swamp. To put it bluntly: The school paved over it, using government connections to pressure the US Fish and Wildlife Service into green-lighting the development and in the process wiping out one of the last vital habitat areas of the severely endangered Florida panther. FGCU's is a particularly extreme version of a familiar story. For a century, South Florida developers have stared down all comers—and methodically reshaped the environment in the process.
On Tuesday, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) signed into law three of the nation's strictest anti-abortion laws, banning all procedures after six weeks, prohibiting abortions due to genetic abnormalities, and adding more hoops for doctors working at the state's one abortion clinic. On Wednesday, the libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center at George Mason University unveiled its annual "Freedom in the 50 States" report, ranking each state's fiscal, regulatory, and personal "freedom."
The Center's rankings are quite thorough—you can see where each stands based on dozens of variables, including taxation, tort reform, fireworks laws, same-sex partnerships, happy hour regulations, the legality of raw milk, and whether or not the state bans salvia. But one thing is pointedly happy from the methodology, despite its seemingly obvious consequences for individual and economic liberty: reproductive rights.
Congratulations, North Dakota. This award will look nice up on the mantle next to the anti-choice March Madness championship trophy.
On Wednesday, actress and public health activist Ashley Judd ended months of public speculation about her political future and announced she would not challenge Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) next fall. Judd, who lives outside Nashville and would have had to establish residency in the Commonwealth, cited family commitments in an announcement on Twitter:
The case for Judd, on its surface, was pretty straightforward. She is young; capable of raising vast sums of money; and sufficiently beloved in the Bluegrass that Steve Beshear, the state's Democratic governor, calls her "Kentucky’s first daughter." McConnell, a fifth-term Republican, is the least popular senator in a chamber that currently includes Robert Menendez. His approach to legislating often seems like a manifestation of his own tortoise-like features—a plodding process that reached its apotheosis last December when he filibustered his own bill.
After hinting in January that she was seriously considering entering the race, Judd quickly became a conservative target. Karl Rove's American Crossroads launched a web ad mocking her Tennessee residency and liberal views, and Republican organizations touted her previous statements on mountain-top removal coal mining and the human rights abuses associated with Apple products. Judd, a three-time rape survivor whose international work deals with victims of sexual abuse, also became a subject of conservative mockery for her frequent discussion of rape—a cautious reminder that, a year after Todd Akin, Republicans still have trouble keeping their feet out of their mouths when they talk about the issue.
With Judd out of the picture, Democrats' best hope may be Kentucky secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes, a 34-year-old first-term officeholder with close ties to the Clintons. (The former president has reportedly encouraged Lundergan Grimes to consider running.)
Marriage equality is ascendant, you may have heard. But Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas), for one, believes the question of who can and cannot marry is a settled issue in his state. "In Texas, it is fairly clear about where this state stands on that issue," Perry told the Dallas Morning News on Tuesday. "As recently as a constitutional amendment that passed—I believe, with 76 percent of the vote. The people of the state of Texas, myself included, believe marriage is between one man and one woman."
But Perry is, like many opponents of same-sex marriage, relying on some fairly dusty data sets. The constitutional amendment he's referring to passed in 2005 (it's 2013 now) and it banned same-sex civil unions in addition to same-sex marriages. Texans were really opposed to marriage equality then. James Henson and Joshua Blank of the Texas Politics Project have been paying a bit more attention to the numbers recently, though, and noticed a trend:
When we went back to examine the trend lines in the polls that included the gay marriage item, it became evident that overall opposition to same sex-marriage has been on a slow and steady decline, with some internal patterns of change among particular age, gender and partisan subgroups, including young people and suburbanites.
Perry would do well to consult this handy chart, from the TPP:
Texas Politics Project
Gay marriage is trending up, opposition to any legal recognition has trended down. Texas probably isn't going to go the way of Maryland and Washington anytime soon, but legal recognition of same-sex unions—which is prohibited under the 2005 constitutional amendment—is now the preference of six in ten Texans. And a majority of young Republicansnow support full marriage equality, suggesting that this trend is only going to continue, even if Texas doesn't start turning purple. Oops.
Ruben Diaz, a 69-year-old Democratic state senator from the Bronx, was one of the best-received speakers at the National Organization for Marriage's March for Marriage on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. His message, shouted out in two languages (with a sidekick yelling the English), was fairly succinct:
"One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer! One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer! One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer! One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer! One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer! One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer! One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer! One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer!"
You get the picture. Diaz is the Edith S. Childs of the anti-equality movement.
Though NOM's rally features the loud music and chants of a pep rally (also: bagpipes, grown men dressed like Buckingham palace guards, and dudes wearing red sashes), it has a different vibe: that of coping. With public opinion swinging wildly in favor of marriage equality, dozens of politicians in both parties following suit, and the Supreme Court poised on the brink of one (if not two) landmark decisions, the once dominant campaign against gay marriage is up against the ropes. Even a majority of young Republicans now believe same-sex marriage should be legal. The movement that conservative columnist George Will noted is "literally dying" decided to hold its rally in front of the Museum of Natural History—just a few paces, that is, from actual fossils.
NOM is attempting to convince its political allies, the media, the public, and perhaps itself that, despite appearances, it has been a good year for the anti-equality movement—that its argument is still a winning one.
On the National Mall, this happened in several stages. The first was grief. Diane Hess of Maryland was standing stage left with a sign that left little room for ambiguity. "Same sex marriage + the liberal media + Obama = the new Axis of Evil." From her perspective, the nation is totally screwed. "I do see us in a worse place, in a more godless place in 20 years," she said. Same-sex marriage is here, and it's only the beginning. "There is going to be a persecution of the Christian church." Sarah Stites, a student at Grove City College and one of the few actual young people at a rally was only a bit more bullish. "It seems to be heading that way," she said, when I ask about marriage equality. "I feel like people my age aren't getting all the information. They're being swayed by the media."
"Eventually there is gonna be a backlash," she remarked, "but I do think think we're going in the direction of same-sex marriage."
The second stage was doubt. As this line of thinking goes, everything you've been told about support for marriage equality should be questioned. "The Field Poll only said there was  percent support for traditional marriage," said NOM president Brian Brown, referring to a poll of Proposition 8 in California. "And guess how that turned out!" (Never mind that the survey was taken five years ago.) Martha Marsh of Maryland told me much the same thing: "First of all, I don't think the majority of Americans are behind same-sex marriage—I think a lot of politicians are for it." Wei Feng, who drove down from Rochester, New York, with his two daughters for the march on the Supreme Court, insisted that there's a "silent majority" that still opposes marriage equality. They'll speak up; just give them time.
The last stage of coping set aside the skepticism entirely and fixated on a fact-free assertion: young people really are on our side. "They are perpetually telling you in the media that young people are supporting same-sex marriage," Brown said at one point. "I'm gonna tell you something: That is not true." Never mind that the Pew study last week found that 70 percent of adults born after 1981 support marriage equality. Brown had something more powerful than a scientific survey: an anecdote. That is, a child: Grace Evans, an 11-year-old from Minnesota who became the next great hope of the anti-equality movement earlier this month when she testified before the Minnesota legislature in opposition to same-sex marriage. Evans, after explaining why her parents were awesome, posed a question to the lawmakers: "Which parent do I not need—my mom or my dad?"
On Tuesday, Brown showed a two-minute video of Evans' testimony on the big screen. When the audience had settled down, he got to the point: "The next time someone tries to intimidate you or they call you a name because you oppose gay marriage, think about that 11 year-old girl."